Ernie’s Pig

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I stood in the barnyard facing a long metal barn. It is about 90 feet long, maybe 30 feet wide with 10-foot walls. The light breeze coming off the Calapoolya River stirs a little dust. Still, it feels cool in the midday heat of July in the Willamette Valley. Not a soul in sight, Ernie had called, saying he needed emergency help with a pig. There was no other explanation. I pondered my next step. The house looked empty, nobody ran to meet me. My guess is they must be in the barn.

   Then a hear a very faint, “help.” Where did that come from, it was too weak for me to get a bearing. Then it happened again. “Help,” a little louder this time, or maybe I was expecting it. It came from the barn, probably the left end.

   I entered the barn and started threading my way toward the far corner. Now I could see them. Ernie’s son-in-law, a stout young man with glasses and a crew cut, was laying across this 150-pound pig, holding him down. Ernie, a thin, wiry old guy, was lying behind the pig. Ernie was holding a pile of intestines protruding from the rear end of the pig. The floor was loose dirt, and every movement produced a cloud of dust the settled on the men, the pig, and the pile of intestines.

  “Thank God you made it, Doc,” Ernie said. “I can’t hold this much longer.”

   I walked over to them, trying to not stir up too much dust. They were castrating this pig. They had a big hernia with a pile of intestines that would fill a gallon bucket protruding from the scrotal incision. I looked close, the other testicle remained, that was a good thing. That would allow me to quickly sedate this pig and see if I could clean things up and replace all the gut.

   “Hang on just a little longer, Ernie,” I said. “I have to get a few things from the truck, and then I think we have a shot at fixing this guy up.”

   I slowly moved away from the group and then ran to the truck to gather things. A drop cloth to put everything on, a plastic bag to put under the guts, an emasculator, surgery pack, scalpel blade, bucket of water with Betadine scrub and solution, suture material, fly spray and antibiotics. One bucket with water, the other full of everything else. I almost forgot the Pentathol. I mixed a 5-gram bottle and drew up 3 grams into a 60 cc syringe, attaching a sixteen gauge, one and one half inch needle to the syringe.

   The office was too busy for me to bring anybody to help, I could have used an extra hand right now. I knew that I would probably forget something, so I went over the list in mind one more time before heading back into the barn.

   “Just another couple of minutes and I will let you relax Ernie,” I said as I started laying out the drop cloth, moving Ernie a little to the side. Then I slid the plastic under the intestines. 

   “Now you can let them go, Ernie, we will just let them lay here for a few minutes,” I said. Ernie let go of the guts, and he just rolled away, laying on his back in the dust with his bloody hands in the air.

   I washed my hands and swabbed the scrotum over the intact testicle. This testicle was several inches in diameter and over four inches long. I popped the 16 gauge needle into the testicle up the hub. The pig was about as tired as Ernie and only slightly flinched. I injected the 3 grams of Pentathol into the testicle.

  “This guy will be asleep in a minute, and you can also rest,” I said to Bill. He had been quiet throughout the whole time.

   I opened the surgery pack quickly and attached the scalpel blade. The pig was pretty sleepy now. I incised the scrotum over the testicle and through the tunic. I squeezed the testicle out of the scrotum and clamped the cord with large Oschner forceps.

   “You can relax now,” I said to Bill. “I have him under control. Just stay close in case I need you.”

   The beauty of this anesthesia in castration is the clamp on the cord. I the pig starts to stir, I release the clamp and let a little more anesthetic into his circulation. When I get the hernia repaired, I will remove this testicle, and he will wakeup pretty quickly.

   Now I turn my attention to the gut pile. Covered with dust, but there does not appear to be any tears or other injuries. They are a little purple, but the time frame is such that they should be okay if I can replace them. I rinse the dust off with a good splash of water. Then Betadine Surgical Scrub, a little more water, and a good scrub.

   “If you could take this other bucket and fill it with water from the hose in the back of the truck, I would appreciate it,” I say to Bill. He jumps up and grabs the bucket. I think he wanted to have a little break.

   “Doc, is he a goner?” Ernie asked as he sat up, mostly recovered from his ordeal.

   “I think things look pretty good, Ernie,” I replied. “I get these guts back where they belong and close up this hernia, he should be good to go.”

   “I’ll be damned If I am going to try to save a farm call again,” Ernie said. “I am done with castrating pigs.”

   “It is a lot easier if you do it when they are under 10 pounds,” I said. “However, you could still have this problem even on the little ones.”

   Bill got back with the water. I made a solution with the Betadine solution in the bucket. Port wine color, they always said in school. I don’t think I ever saw port wine. I flushed the guts with a large splash. Then holding the mass up level with the inguinal canal, I began to feed them back into the abdomen. When the guts were mostly back into the abdomen, I freed the tunic from the scrotal tissues. Twisting the tunic like I was closing a plastic bag, the last of the exposed intestines squirted back into the abdomen. Then I placed a clamp across the tunic to hold everything in place while I got the suture ready. 

     I released the clamp on the testicle for a couple of minutes and watched as the pig made a big sigh. Then, I reapplied the clamp.

   I placed a transfixing suture of #2 Dexon on the tunic. Then I palpated the external inguinal ring. I could put 3 fingers into the ring. I placed one mattress suture in the posterior half of the ring and tightened it to close the ring’s size. This done, I emasculated the other testicle. Again on this side, I freed the tunic and closed it up and sutured it closed. The external ring on this side felt normal. I don’t remember ever seeing a bilateral hernia in pigs.

   I squirted both incisions with Betadine solution and sprayed the whole area with fly spray. Then I gave a large dose of Amoxicillin SQ in the front quarter. The pig was starting to stir a little.

   “He will be on his feet before I have everything back in the truck, “ I said as I started gathering things up. 

   “Boy, was ever glad to see you, Doc,” Ernie said with a still bloody hand on my shoulder. “I don’t know what we would have done without you, just would have had to butcher him, I guess.”

   “Just remember, Ernie, next time do it when they are little,” I replied.

   “I am thankful you could come so quickly, I guess I wasn’t even thinking of how much it was going to cost. Just remember Doc, when you are filling out the bill, he is just a pig, can’t be worth much,” Ernie said.

   “Well, Ernie, I’ll tell you one thing, he is worth a damn site more today than he was yesterday,” I replied.`

Photo Credit: Photo by mali maeder from Pexels

Polyradiculoneuritis(Coonhound Paralysis)

D. E. Larsen, DVM

    Neurology in Veterinary Medicine in the early 1970s always seemed like a waste of time to me. In school, we seemed to spend untold hours learning detailed anatomy of the brain and nervous system.  There were some things we could intervene, like spinal injuries. But the viral diseases of the brain and even the bacterial infections were tough nuts to crack in Veterinary Medicine in 1970.

It seemed every neurologist loved their specialty. Somewhere during every series of lectures, Polyradiculoneuritis would pop up. After spending the better part of an hour on the topic, the professor would note that most of us would never see a case in our lifetime. Why then, do I have pages of notes on a disease that I will probably never see, and if I do, there will be virtually nothing that I can do for the patient except provide competent nursing care and hope for a recovery. Of course, I had the notes because of the pending test. I always felt that it was a total waste of time.

    In practice, I ventured into the brain only on rare occasions.  My first case was a necropsy on a cow who died suddenly during the morning milking.  I was a budding pathologist in those days and completed a very thorough necropsy only to find absolutely no reason for this cow to die.  The owner wanted an answer, and the only place I hadn’t looked was the brain.

   I had spent the summer following my sophomore year in vet school working on the necropsy floor at school.  Extracting the brain was an easy task for me.  I skinned the head and then shaved the bone away from  the brain with a small hatchet.  A couple of snips at the dura and I lifted the brain out of the skull.  Laying it on a board, I sliced it in thick longitudinal layers. On the third slice, I hit a large pocket of mush. This cow had a massive stroke.  I offered to send in the tissues for an accurate diagnosis, but the farmer was aware of our limitations.

    “What are you going to do with any answer they give you?” he asked.

Then there was Buddy. Buddy was a 12 week-old hound pup belonging to Frank. I had seen Buddy a couple of times for routine vaccines and such. On this day Frank was helping a friend building a shed. They were putting up rafters. Buddy was running around the shed doing hounddog stuff. Like any good hound, his nose was to the ground as he followed some scent. About then, he was suddenly in the wrong place at the wrong time. One of the rafters fell from the top of the roof. The end landed on the front of Buddy’s forehead. They gathered him up and came running to the clinic.

The top of Buddy’s skull was caved in, depressed into the brain maybe an inch. The frontal sinuses were open. And worst of all, I could see brain tissue oozing into the wound.

    After just a brief look, I took a deep breath and turned to Frank with an assessment.

    “Frank, I don’t think I am going to be able to help him.  His skull is caved into his brain, and the frontal sinuses are open to the wound, the chances of saving this guy are slim, in fact, slim to none.” I said.

    “I know, but we have to try Doc. Can you just try, I have total faith in your skills,” Frank replied.

    In those days, we didn’t have specialty clinics on every corner. If this were going to get done, It would be by my hands.

   “I will give it a try, I will do everything I can. Just one thing, Frank, I want you to sign a euthanasia release before surgery.  If things go from bad to worse, there is no reason to put Buddy through any discomfort by waking him up.”

    Buddy was unconscious through the entire exam.  After a dose of atropine, I intubated him without any induction drugs and used only Halothane gas anesthesia.  We shaved and prepped the wound and reflected the skin edges from the bone.  There was probably a two inch square of skull bone depressed nearly an inch into the brain. Brain tissue was oozing around the edges of the depressed bone.  The break of the skull bone opened the upper corner of the frontal sinuses. 

    I was obviously beyond my experience base at this point. I used curved mosquito forceps to pry the depressed bone from the brain.  I mopped up the loose brain tissue and wondered what to do next. There was a significant depression in the frontal lobes of the brain. I placed a couple of sutures in the dura mater, just enough to close the tear. Then I placed a couple of 22 gauge stainless steel sutures in the leading edge of the skull bone to maintain a solid reduction.  The posterior portion of this bone was still attached. It was a jagged enough leading edge to provide a reduction with adequate closure of the sinuses.  I closed the skin wound in a conventional manner. Then I unhooked Buddy from the gas.  Now it was just a waiting game.

By the end of the day of surgery, Buddy was becoming responsive. He would acknowledge your presence, even raise his head a little. The next day, Buddy was sternal but pressing his right side to the edge of the kennel. On the second day, he would eat a few bites and walk as long as he had a wall to press against his right side. The meant that he could motivate but only in a counterclockwise direction around the room. Another couple of days and we sent Buddy home. He could walk now without a wall and improving every day.

The following summer Buddy was scheduled for his annual exam. I glanced out into the waiting room. There was Frank; a tall, lanky young man, maybe a couple of years out of high school, sitting with Buddy on his lap. Buddy was a full-grown hound and took up his entire lap. Buddy was a forever puppy. Pretty functional but he never progressed beyond his 10 or 12 week-old mental abilities.

It was maybe a couple of years after Buddy’s accident that Sally Smith brought her Australian Shepherd named Sport in for an exam. Sally was a smaller blonde lady in her early 40s, very athletic. She had purchased a ranch in Liberty and ran A small herd. Sport was a cow dog who only had a few cows to herd.

During the exam, Sport displayed a lot of anxiety. It was apparent he knew that things were not right. All of his reflexes were impaired. He could barely walk. Sally said he seemed to worsen by the hour. My first concern was rabies, but his vaccination was current. Sally agreed to leave him overnight for observation and treatment.

    I was at a loss for a diagnosis. I started Sport on some Trimethoprim/Sulfa and some Dexamethasone to cover basis. The Trimeth/sulla would treat toxoplasmosis specifically and would also cover most bacterial infections of the central nervous system. The steroid would reduce and CNS swelling.  We would have to see what morning would bring.

By morning Sport was completely paralyzed. He was flat out, could not raise his head, but he was alert, following my every move with his eyes. He could lap water and eat with assistance. Without a diagnosis, I was dead in the water to provide a prognosis, but things were looking pretty bleak at this point.

Sally came in later in the morning, and I accompanied her back to the kennel to look at Sport. Sport layed there with his eyes dancing and his mouth open and tongue lapping. The tip of his tail still had a little wag. I knelt and patted his head. Then I noticed a large scratch across the top of his head.

    “That’s quite a scratch,” I said.

    “Oh yes, That is probably from a raccoon. Buddy is out hunting those things every night,” Sally replied.

    I stood up and looked at Sally, “Raccoons,” I said.

    “He runs them all night long and often tangles with them. He killed a big old boar the other night,” she said.

    I knelt and scratched Sport on the head, thinking to myself “Wow, polyradiculoneuritis.

    Don’t you believe it!  I said to myself, “I’ll be damned, Buddy you have Coonhound Paralysis!”

    Apparently, I spoke louder than to myself.  Sally asked, “What did you say?”

    “This is Coonhound Paralysis. It is a rare disease in dogs, very similar to Guillain-Barre syndrome in man. We don’t know what causes it, but it is most often associated with contact with raccoon saliva, hence the name, Coonhound paralysis.

    There is not much to do for him except to provide nursing care.  It will get worse; all his muscles will atrophy. But if his respiratory muscles remain functional, there is a chance that he will recover and return to normal.  We can care for him here if you like, but the expense may be high.

    “I will take him home and make a bed for him behind the stove. He will be much happier at home,” Sally said.

    “Make sure his bed is well padded, turn him often, several times a day, and help him with food and water.  We will try to keep track of things with you but call if you have any questions,” I replied.

    It was several months before I saw Sport again.  He was pretty much back to normal.  Sally said he was looking pretty bad after a couple of weeks of paralysis but then slowly returned to normal.  Now he is back to chasing those darn raccoons.    

    About two years later, Sport was in the clinic with another onset of paralysis. Things went about the same as his initial episode.  The neurologists in school had always said it would be a once in a lifetime diagnosis.  I would guess that I must have lived a couple of lifetimes.  The diagnosis was made twice but to the same patient.

Photo by Guillaume Bourdages on Unsplash

Long Road Home for Tramp

D. E. Larsen, DVM

“Slow down a minute, Ralph,” Jan said as she was watching the old cat on the edge of Pleasant Valley Bridge in Sweet Home. 

“Turn here,” Jan said, pointing at the bridge.

Ralph turned and headed across the old bridge.

“Stop, stop right here. That cat needs some help.”

Jan almost jumped out of the car before it came to a stop. She crouched down and called softly to the cat. “Here, kitty, kitty,” Jan said as she stretched out her hand and made a couple of short, shuffled steps toward the dusty old tabby cat.

The cat hesitated for a moment as if trying to decide if he should run or not. But something was inviting in this lady’s voice. He eased forward and sniffed at her fingertips. She patted him on the top of his head.

A couple of cars had stopped behind their vehicle, and Ralph was getting a little impatient.

“Hurry it up, Jan. We are holding up traffic.”

A lady started to get out of a car that was a couple of cars back in the line. Jan motioned for her to stay back. 

The old tabby cat moved up to Jan’s knees and pushed against her.  

Jan could feel a stifled purr. She took a deep breath, leaned over, and scooped the old guy up.

Jan slid into the car with the cat and pulled the door shut. The cat leaned into her and purred as Jan stroked his back and sides.

Ralph swallowed and put the car in gear. “I hope this isn’t a mistake,” he said as the car moved forward.

“This is a nice cat,” Jan said. “And he has a collar and a tag.”

“We don’t have time to deal with a stray cat today,” Ralph said.

“We need to find the vet’s office in town,” Jan said.

Ralph pulled over as soon as they were across the bridge. The car with the lady who wanted to help pulled up behind them, and the lady came up to Jan’s window. The cat was now wholly under Jan’s spell as she continued to stroke him with long slow strokes from the top of his head to his tail.

Jan rolled her window down a bit. “Where can we find a vet in town?” she asked.

“There is a clinic in the Safeway shopping center in the middle of town,” the lady said. “Is the kitty okay?”

“I think he is okay, maybe lost, but okay,” Jan said. “He looks a little rough like he has been traveling a bit. He has a tag. We will drop him at the vet’s office. We are headed for Bend and don’t have a lot of time.”


Jan was breathless as she came through the clinic door and perched the cat on the counter in front of Judy.

“We found this cat on the bridge coming into town,” Jan said. “It looks like he needs some help, and we are on our way to Bend.”

“It looks like he has a tag on that collar,” Judy said. “Is he nice?”

“He is the sweetest old thing,” Jan said. “I think he must be lost.”

Judy looked at the tag. “It says Tramp,” Judy read. “I guess that fits. Let me check with the doctor.”

I came out and looked at the cat. He was thin but okay otherwise, and it had a collar and a tag. The tag gave the cat’s name, Tramp. It also had an owner’s name and local phone number. I agreed to keep the cat.

“Thanks a lot, Doc,” Ralph said. “We have to hurry now. We have a meeting in Bend that we will be late for if we don’t get on the road.”

These foundlings were always a problem. Occasionally, the finder would offer to be responsible for the bill if the owner was not found. But most of the time, that expense, whatever it happened to be, fell on the clinic. At least Tramp came with an owner’s name and phone number.

Judy was given the task of calling the owner on the tag. 

“Yes, this is Robert Wilson,” the man said to Judy. “What can I do for you.”

“This is Judy from Sweet Home Veterinary Clinic,” Judy said. “We had a couple find an old cat on Pleasant Valley Bridge this morning. The cat has a tag on its collar with your name and number on the tag.”

“I don’t know what to tell you about that,” Mr. Wilson said. “We don’t own a cat.”

That was great news. We were stuck with finding someone to adopt this cat, not an unusual event for such situations.

  About 30 minutes later, we were still discussing how we would find someone to take the cat, and the phone rang. It was Mr. Wilson, the guy Judy had called about the cat.

  “What does that cat look like?” He asked.

  “It is a brownish tabby cat, neutered male, friendly. He looks a little thin and has sort of a rough hair coat, but otherwise, he is in good shape.” Judy replied.

  “We had a cat about 5 years ago. We had to move to San Francisco for a couple of years. We lost him on the trip down, somewhere in Northern California. His name was Tramp, but I don’t remember a collar. You don’t think that could be him, do you?” 

  “How else do you suppose this cat had Tramp’s collar?” Judy asked.

  “We will come right down and get a look at him.”

  It was not long, and a car pulled up in front of the clinic. Robert and his wife came through the door first, but Susie, their teenage daughter, was right on their heels.  

One look at Tramp, and it became a happy reunion. The daughter opened the cage, and Tramp was instantly on her shoulder and purring, rubbing his face on her neck and face. She was in tears.  

“Susie has suffered for years. We had stopped at a rest stop south of Crescent City, and Tramp got out of the car. The next thing we knew, he was scared by another car and ran into the woods. We looked for him for an hour, but we couldn’t stay there. We had to go on. Susie cried for days.”

“Do you think he has been traveling all these years? That is remarkable,” Judy said.

“It is pretty hard to believe, you saw the immediate recognition by both of them. Pretty remarkable, it will be a happy evening in our house,” Mr. Wilson said. “Do I owe you guys anything?”

“No, we are just happy we didn’t have to find a family to adopt him,” I said.

  The stories Tramp could tell. This was something right out of a Disney movie.

Photo by Gabriel Gheorghe on Unsplash

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